KATV journalists hit with tear gas while covering Little Rock protests

May 30, 2020

KATV News reporter Shelby Rose said she and several colleagues were hit with tear gas deployed by police while they covered protests in Little Rock, Arkansas, on May 30, 2020.

The demonstrations in Little Rock were among many anti-racism protests across the country that were sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as other deaths of Black people at the hands of police.

Rose was covering the protests in downtown Little Rock as tensions escalated between police and protesters. According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Arkansas State Police used tear gas multiple times that night to disperse protesters who gathered in the city’s downtown.

Rose said she and four other KATV journalists were first hit with tear gas when they stood near a small group of protesters, shortly after the Arkansas State Police arrived. One journalist, digital reporter Paige Cushman, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she had seen police using tear gas indiscriminately in a different area shortly before the news team was hit with it, and said she didn’t believe the news team had been targeted.

Rose said there were a handful of protesters near where she was standing with her colleagues, preparing for a live broadcast. She and members of her team were clearly identified as journalists. They were wearing polos with the KATV news logo and carrying camera equipment, including a powerful light used to shoot video, she said.

“There was no warning for tear gas,” she said. “They shot it right at us.”

In a live broadcast shot immediately after tear gas was used, Rose walked along a sidewalk, with protesters visible nearby, describing the effects. “My eyes are currently burning right now,” she said.

In a clip from a Facebook Live video recorded by a colleague, Rose and other members of the team kneel on the ground, as someone helps her pour water in her eyes.

Rose said she believes police intentionally fired tear gas toward her. “It was obvious who we were, and we were standing right next to them.”

Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said in an email that the incident hadn’t been reported to the agency. He said police wouldn’t have fired on reporters standing near the police line, because the officers wouldn’t have deployed tear gas on themselves. “I assure you no tear gas was directed at any state troopers or reporters.”

He also said police always issue a loud warning to disperse before using tear gas. Rose said she heard no announcement from police before the tear gas was deployed.

About 15 minutes later, Rose was standing on a corner on Martin Luther King Drive with no protesters near her when a tear gas canister landed near her, she said.

Video reviewed by the Tracker that was shot as Rose was broadcasting live shows a line of police carrying riot shields, blocking a street. A tear gas canister appears to be shot from the line of police, alight and trailed by a shower of sparks. As she reported on the scene, Rose initially called the canisters “fireworks,” before she realized they were tear gas.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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